The Greatest Marriage Advice Tara and I Have Received

Tara and I really have a sweet marriage because of the greatest marriage advice we’ve received. We really do. There’s a tenderness there, a light-heartedness, that has taken work to build. Is it perfect? No. At the time of writing the first draft of this, last night I snapped at her out of my exhaustion and irritability at her late-night energy and made her cry. I immediately felt ashamed and apologized and held her.

I screw up. Often.

But.

We have something that I will cherish until the day I die. We have it because very, very wise people keep speaking into our lives to help us along the way. Here is the greatest marriage advice we’ve been given over the years.

I’m judging “the greatest marriage advice” as advice that keeps on paying dividends that have exponentially compounded or deepened our relationship over the long haul:

______

“Let blood deal with blood.”
— Rev. Randy Gariss

When things get tense with extended families, we’ve tried our best to make decisions in private as a team and then let me deal with my family and let her deal with hers. Sometimes an offense is so egregious that it bears immediate response, particularly if someone’s shouting at one of us, but in general this rule has saved us far more than it’s caused harm through our inaction and therefore makes the list for the greatest marriage advice.

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“Make your anniversary a trip every year. Even if it’s a dodgy motel an hour away. Go somewhere together.”
— Titus Benton

My friends are ornery to a fault. For instance, a good chunk of Tara’s family are teetotalers so we opted for a dry wedding reception. A good chunk of my hometown friends brought flasks in response. You can see why I was hesitant to tell them even what direction I was driving since we honeymooned only 60 miles away from our new house. I never really understood why people go into debt to take these massive extravagant trips to Cozumel or Bermuda for their honeymoon. To say it tactfully: does a general waste the most expensive deployments on new recruits? One of our peers at the time remarked that people do this because they need something to make it special since they’ve spent so much time co-habitating prior. As you’ll see below, the idea of spending time together with a bottle of honeymead until the new moon rises was special enough for us: no extravagance required.

That said, the greatest marriage advice includes not only the idea of going somewhere every anniversary, but in going somewhere just a little more special every year. We started out in a dingy motel and we’ve spent anniversaries in hill country and in  special small towns and alongside rivers and in mountain melts of snow. Which leads me to the next piece of the greatest marriage advice:

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“Save your pennies for anniversary spending money. And save for the every-five-year anniversaries now.”
— Aunt Danette Bolton

We have a jar with a piece of paper with PARADISE FALLS written on the side and we CROSS OUR HEARTS not to get into it during the year.

paradise falls jar the greatest marriage advice

It’s grown a little bigger every year. This year I think it was up to like $350 in spending money for the week, all from spare change we collect on the NYC streets and from using cash during the year. We also have savings for our 10, 15, and 20 year anniversaries that we add to every month or so. This has the added benefit of anticipation. Last year we added a “bug out fund” that literally empowers us to get out of Dodge once every year or so when things get really hairy. Since we don’t care where we end up, we can empty that fund and go wherever’s cheapest on Delta’s site.

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So year, this has turned out to be some of the greatest marriage advice in these crazy times.

“See a need and meet it.”
— Dean & Tammy Balu (Tara’s parents)

Didn’t really have this drilled into my head until I married Tara, but I’m much better at it than when I began. It’s just a basic principle of service, but it’s stated as a method, as a plan of attack, as a to-do list. See those dirty dishes? Clean ’em. See that dirty floor? Sweep it. See those holey undies? Buy new ones. See that dog getting ready to pee on the floor? Walk her. See that empty fridge? Meal plan and shop so she doesn’t have to.

Every time I do this, it turns a potential fight into an act of love and service and therefore remains some of the greatest marriage advice.

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“The interruptions are your work.”
— Doug Welch
(quoting Henri Nouen)

I honestly hate few things more than interruptions. I’m very myopic in my work, almost autistic in it (according to the tests), and that puts strain on us. When we’re at our best, we defer to one another in love and make ourselves available to one another. When we’re at our worst, we huff and scoff and complain about how we interrupted one another, forgetting that the other person is the best asset and advocate and advisor the interrupted party has in this life. One of us recently took money out of our private business account just to reinvest in the other person because without the other person, our work suffers. The interruptions are your work.

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“I believe in verbal plenary inerrancy, penal substitutionary atonement, and date night.”
— Mark Driscoll

Far be it from me to quote Mark Driscoll anywhere else on any other subject. Even on this subject in other departments, honestly. And I don’t agree even with the first two statements (I’m not a verbal plenary guy nor a penal guy), but I include the quote because (1) it’s a funny thing to say and (2) it’s close the way I think. For me, I might say something like “I believe in neoplatonic theological fiction, opus alchemicum symbolism, and date night.” When we’ve prioritized even the stupidest weekly dates — like the $10 budget we spent in our early days ($2 for the antique store and $8 for chips and salsa at El Charro’s) — we’ve thrived. We just discovered $6 Wednesdays at the Alpine theater, which is beautiful and creating a steady, weekly regroup time. Add that to a regular day off where we just sleep in and read and relax and it makes our hard and heavy work that much more enlightening, ennobling, and enervating.

And anything that “in” is the greatest marriage advice ever.

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“You’ve already won her heart.
You don’t need to rub it in.”
— Dr. Mark E. Moore

I had some tension with Tara’s family early on — tension that doesn’t really exist anymore, certainly not on the magnitude of order that it did before. When that first started happening, Dr. Moore made a point that I had already won the war by winning Tara’s heart, so all I needed to do was be faithful and loving and patient and it would work itself out in time simply because adding my personhood to the family dynamic forced the family to decide whether or not it wanted to be a family anymore. Other guys gave similar advice, but ultimately Mark’s concise statement stuck in me the deepest. I have a great relationship with my father-in-law now and I have Mark to thank for keeping me from adding actual insult to perceived injury.

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“We decided early on to do everything we could to make each other’s dreams come true.”
— Dr. Shane Wood.

Tara begged me through tears early on Why don’t you write more?!

Frankly, I wouldn’t quit my job and write more because we were living in a very patriarchal society that looked down on men who did not provide financially for their families at every turn, in every sector, through every available income stream. But Tara’s initiation on my quitting, starting my writing business, and going back to school was the best thing that ever happened to my career in so, so, so many ways starting with forsaking my personal comfort for the sake of civic courage.

On the converse, it’s a bit tricky encouraging Tara. She has a very strong will — even stronger than mine — and can be phlegmatic. I’m not telling you anything she wouldn’t tell you: I think it’s actually a strength of hers. She’ll only do something if it’s a good idea, her idea, well-planned, well-timed, and well-executed. This means she’s the only person in the world I haven’t been able to persuade. So I’ve learned to merely encourage her whenever she comes to me with an idea. Not to hover. Not to force. But to counsel and guide and listen and cheerlead without smothering. I’ve seen her really blossom in her own crafts and passions, especially recently.

And we’ve arranged our lives around simply encouraging the other person to do the thing that makes them come alive and give life and truth and beauty to others. It’s more of the greatest marriage advice manifested in the realm of dreams.

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“You overestimate what you can accomplish in one year and underestimate what you can accomplish in five.”
— Rev. Randy Gariss

We do this all the time. We’ll say WE WANT TO MOVE TO NEW YORK. It won’t work out for a year, two years.

Then we’ll look back after five have passed and be like, “Wait a minute. Five years ago this was a goal and we’ve long accomplished it.”

WE WANT TO PAY OFF ALL OF OUR DEBT.

Won’t work for the first year.

After five years, though, we’ll not only have all our debt paid off. We’ll have a massive emergency fund and some investment for the future of our kids and the kids of our siblings.

It’s just a reminder to (1) have long-term vision for where you’d like to end up as a couple and (2) to remember you’ll get there, but not by Christmas. Ideal realism. Neoplatonism. Basically dramatic and honest vision that overshadows both optimism and pessimism is the spirit of the greatest marriage advice.

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“Save your virginity and get married as virgins.”
— Multiple sources
(but mainly from the Ludys, Dr. Leman, and the haunting stats at the start of this book.)

This one was very, very difficult for multiple reasons both obvious and not-so-obvious. We’re both touchers, for one, so that made it really hard — especially since Tara wanted me to help redeem kissing for her after a bad experience. I was much obliged, of course, but it made it hard. Where do you draw the line? When do you draw the line? How do you hold the line once it’s drawn?

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We luckily had some really good friends that came around us and said, “No, this is what you’re doing and we’ll hold you to it.” It wasn’t a guilt thing so much as a “we want the best for you both” thing. So we checked in weekly with them after being honest about the difficulty and the weeks leading up to our wedding were very, very tender and guilt-free.

From that base, we’ve been able to grow with one another.

“…but remember that sex isn’t gross or a god. It’s a gift, so make sure you’re informed.”
— Dr. Lehman

There’s a ton I could say on this subject, but I’m already starting to blush so I suppose if you really want to hear more, send me an email and I’ll elaborate on the greatest marriage advice regarding sexy stuff.

There are more important things like:

“The man who has the capacity to read great books and does not has no advantage over the man who cannot.”
— Mark Twain

We’ve swapped “man” for “couple” and have started reading broadly and deeply and sharing often. We reflect on the things we watch and consume and read and talk over it. We won’t watch a movie without going on a date and talking through the implications. We won’t read a book without sharing the best parts and thinking deeply. And we make a habit of reading aloud to one another both from our work and from the work of the greats.

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I could probably go on for days and days regarding the greatest marriage advice we’ve received but then you’ll never get to share your own. Tell me in the comments: what’s the greatest marriage advice you’ve ever received?

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2 Comments

    1. Thanks JD and thanks for stopping by. Yeah, that reminds me of how Joe Biden always introduces himself as “Jill Biden’s husband.” Politics aside, it’s an incredible man who continues to champion his wife as his greatest accomplishment.

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